Home improvement hell!

4 min read
September 09, 2015

09/09/15 What goes wrong when you when you get the builders in for home improvements? What are your rights and how do you deal with these issues?

Builder Man

It’s been good news this week at the Resolver.co.uk HQ, as we became official members of the Buy With Confidence scheme. This is a national scheme that unites Trading Standards departments from local authorities all over the country. The idea (as the Buy With Confidence website puts it) is: “The intention of Buy With Confidence is to provide a register of businesses that have been thoroughly vetted and approved by Trading Standards.”

So if you use a trader or business that is a Buy With Confidence member, then you can rest confident that they are likely to be trustworthy, and that you have a good chance of getting some sort of recourse if things go wrong.

So what happens if things do go wrong? 

Issues with tradesmen cost UK homeowners an estimated £1.9 billion every year – five times more than domestic burglary claims. When choosing a builder or other construction trade it is important that you ensure you are using a competent tradesperson, as the cost of resolving issues can be a lot more than you might expect.

We often find a tradesperson through word of mouth, websites of traders or adverts in the paper. Resolver recommends using personal recommendations or a Government-rated standards agency such as Buy With Confidence or TrustMark. TrustMark members commit to meeting Government-approved standards and there is an independent complaints process.

But how do you stop problems happening in the first place? It is really important to spend the time before you start to ensure problems don’t occur later.

  1. Know who you are employing: go for personal recommendations from friends, family or neighbours or use the TrustMark website to find a quality registered trade
  2. Make sure it is clear: prepare a detailed job specification of what you want done and ensure the documents explains clearly what you require. If the improvements involve multiple trades, you may want to have a project manager (Architect or Building surveyor) to manage the job for you. 
  3. Get multiple quotes: get written quotes from at least three firms. 
  4. Ensure it is agreed: ensure time frames are agreed in writing along with any penalties for late delivery.
  5. What if: check for a minimum of £1.5 million public liability insurance.
  6. Any changes: ensure costs, materials and other extras are detailed in writing, along with any changes that occur during the project.
  7. Get references: ask for references and visit previous projects so that you check the quality of workmanship and project management. 
  8. Use a standard contract: TrustMark and all reputable trade bodies will have a reasonable standard contract. Ensure the contract includes price and timings. 
  9. Late delivery: ensure you also agree the change process and specify penalties to be incurred for late delivery.
  10. What to do: get use of lavatories and tea/milk and kettles sorted, what are you comfortable with?

What if it still goes wrong?

If something starts going wrong you should raise the issue immediately and try and resolve the issue. Frequently the issue goes unreported and then is compounded with other issues until the problem cannot be easily resolved.

Raise the issue by speaking with the building firm and then follow the issue up with an email or a letter so that you have a record of all communications. Be sure to keep a complete and accurate record, so if the issue cannot be resolved you have a complete record in the event you need to take further action.

In addition you should take photos of the issue. If the issue becomes serious you may want to have an independent report completed as this will support your case.

What is the law that covers the work?

You are covered under two areas. If you have a contract you are covered under contractual law, where the agreement between you and the builder has been defined. The Sale of Goods and Services Act, 1982 covers you if you did not have a contract. The Act stipulates that your work should be provided with reasonable care and skills.

Even if the issue arises after the work has been completed and your warranty has ended, under the Sale of Goods and Services Act there is an implied reasonable warranty.

What if you cannot resolve the issue?

We would recommend that either you raise your issue to the membership organisation or consider mediation. The membership organisation will have its own complaints process to help you resolve the issue. In this situation, you will benefit from ensuring that your nominated trader or contractor is a member of an organisation such as TrustMark.

The alternative is mediation. Both parties pay for an independent specialist to meditate in the hopes of finding a resolution between the two parties. It is a quick and cheap alternative to going to Court.

The final solution is to go to court. You can raise your issue through Money Claims OnLine (MCOL). MCOL allows you to quickly and simply submit your case to the Court Service. It is more expensive than mediation and can take up to six months before your case will be heard.

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